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Note No. 14

              Do Indian Nukes inhibit improvement ?

       Writing in the Hindu of April 23 Tan Chung the Co chairman of the Institute of Chinese studies New Delhi makes the interesting point that the  “anti china  radioactivity “ following the Pokhran explosions  lead  to the “ frigidity “ in Sino Indian relations.  He quotes a little known statement of Late Chairman Mao about the Chinese traditional  wish to incarnate  in “western heaven “ even after Buddhism lost its impact in India- a statement intended to convey China’s affinity for India.  The article gives the encouraging  impression that Chinese do not feel particularly insecure about India going nuclear and it is more a case of  hurt by words than deeds.. China's Ambassador to India had earlier expressed similar view when he said on March 25 that Beijing "does not view India as a threat to its security “ and  called for enhanced dialogue to clear misgivings between the two Asian neighbours.   His  remarkably moderate comments has been seen by many as China’s keen interest  to repair  the strained  ties with India. 

       Both the above statements deserve very careful consideration by India to see whether the Sino Indian relationship could be brought on an even keel keeping in mind the security sensitivity of both the countries.  The news reports on the resumed Joint working group meeting at Beijing augurs well in this regard.

       The major and immediate problem between the two countries are the hangovers of the 1962 border war and India’s sensitivity about Chinese help for Pakistan’s nuclear and missile program.  Earlier Chinese view of India as a camp follower of the former Soviet Union would have been dispelled with the disappearance of the Soviet Union. On the border dispute both sides seem to be anxious to avoid exacerbation of relations  and would certainly not like  a repeat of the 1962 episode.  While China has no need to rake up the issue ( its strategic interests have been fulfilled in the 1962 war ),  India has  more immediate and pressing problem of Pakistan and its proxy war in Kashmir to take care of.  It is therefore in the fitness of things to keep discussing  the border question as it is being done now, to find eventually a mutually agreeable solution.

       The next question is China’s help to Pakistan’s quest for nuclear and missile capability.  There are some indications that China has had a rethink on the subject and would abide by all the international agreements like the NPT and despite its reservations on MTCR, would abide by its essential principles.  China could assuage India’s fears in this regard by being frank and reassuring for the future.

       There are some indications to support the Chinese Ambassador’s view that China does not view India as a security threat.

       For example it is said that China has abandoned development of an advanced Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), the Dongfeng-25 (DF-25 or East Wind 25), planned as a mobile ground-launch missile with a range of 1700 km and a 2 ton warhead. It  would have been China's first new missile capable of striking targets in central India since the Dongfeng-3A, now obsolete, was introduced in 1971. The cancellation combined with the dwindling Chinese bomber force, has been seen by some analysts  as  proof of China not viewing India as a potential  threat.  What is however intriguing is the continued opposition of China to India’s nuclear status.

       All Pubic statements of Chinese officials have been an irreconcilable ‘No’ to India’s nuclear status. Ambassador Sha Zukhang Director- General Department of Arms Control and Disarmament Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China said in a presentation at the Carnegie International non proliferation conference on January 11-12, 1999 that  the nuclear non-proliferation regime was the hardest hit by  Indian and  Pakistani nuclear tests and called for- "first and  foremost,"- efforts to stop and reverse the nuclear development programs of India and Pakistan.  China and the United States have reaffirmed their resolve that India and Pakistan must roll back their nuclear weapons programme.  India’s status as a “declared possessor of nuclear weapons” is also understood to have been contested by China at the Association of South East Asian Nations’ Regional Forum (ARF) panel meeting in Bangkok on 5th March 1999.

       The Chinese attitude is quite at variance  with its  pronouncements when it started on the road to  acquire nuclear weapons.

       In a well-written article on the evolution of China’s nuclear Non proliferation Policy in the Non Proliferation Review  of  winter 1997, Mingquan Zhu,  Professor in the Dept of international relations at Fudan University Shanghai, brings out three stages of Chinese nuclear policy. Till 1962  Chinese regarded nuclear weapons as a form of conventional weapon  and Mao described them as paper tiger  when the difference in his mind was related only to the scope of casualties.  During this period Chinese leaders also believed that any sovereign state had the right to develop nuclear weapons breaking the nuclear monopoly and providing a kind of multilateral deterrence.  China did not hide its interest in nuclear weapons when Mao told Jawaharlal Nehru the then Indian PM on Oct 23,1954 “China has no atom bombs now and I don’t  know whether India has them or not. We have just started our research.”

        India had thus ample notice (10 years) of China’s nuclear ambitions.  It is a different matter that Pandit Nehru  by design or otherwise chose to ignore this valuable piece of information.

       China did  not become a party to the  Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963  and  conducted its first atmospheric test in Oct 1964.  When the NPT came up in 1968 China criticised it as a “conspiracy by the USSR and the US to maintain the nuclear monopoly.  When the USSR made a suggestion in Nov 1977 for a comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty the Chinese criticised the Soviet Union saying that it is proposing it after conducting enough nuclear tests and does not want others to conduct it now. China  finally suggested a no first use principle to which it has been adhering till now.

        Chinese leaders from Mao to Deng had held that China should accord a high priority to its nuclear weapons programme.  In 1957 Deng said that the U.S. was afraid of the Soviet Union since the latter is a nuclear weapon state whereas it  is not afraid of bombless China and stationed troops in Taiwan.

       It is only after the 80s, with the ascension of Deng Xiao Peng to power, China moved to a position of opposition to nuclear proliferation, as by this time it has established its relationship with the U.S.  and had opened up its economy . it  integrated itself in the nuclear non proliferation regime, particularly after joining the IAEA in 1984 and started following its statutory obligations.

        While it is obvious that China appreciates the deterrent and defensive aspect of the nuclear weapons its opposition to India’s quest for the weapons cannot simply be dismissed as a lack of sensitivity to India’s perceived needs for the nuclear weapons status.  In a white paper issued in July 1998 China said that it possesses a small number of nuclear weapons entirely to meet the needs of self defence.  If so, how can China not  see a similar need for self defence in the case of India?  China also cannot feel threatened by the current Indian capability in nuclear weapon and missile technology, when it is compared with  the Chinese  capability. 

        The current capability of India is limited to a few (number unknown) nuclear warheads of  unknown yield and the once tested Agni II with a range of 2000 Kms.  India is at present not in a position to strike deep into Chinese territory.  As against this China’s arsenal consists of  missiles with ranges  starting from 300 Kms.  (M11 or DF 11) to MRBMs with ranges of 4750 Kms.  (DF4) and  ICBMs with range of 13000 (DF 5).  It has an SLBM with a range of 1700 Kms (JL1) .  Its nuclear warheads are believed to number over 400. The doubts entertained by many strategic thinkers about China’s capability in tactical nuclear weapons would also have been dispelled by the news that China was able to obtain relevant information on the American war head W-88. 

        The one possible explanation for China’s opposition to India’s nuclear status could be  its anxiety to go along with the western views on the issue .  Adopting a policy of cooperation in non proliferation  with the west, particularly the U.S., would not hurt its interests and in fact benefit it  in the form of investments and technology. It also sees that Pakistan would be the ultimate loser in any  arms race in the subcontinent – a development which it cannot view  with   equanimity. In the final analysis China would reconcile to a nuclear India though it would continue to oppose it till such time the rest of the world accepts it. What is more important is to build up an  equitable relationship between the  two countries  and with the declaration of no first use by both, not let the nuclear weapons come in the way of building up this relationship.  
 S.Gopal                                            01-05-1999  

( The author is a former special secretary of Govt. of  India. )